13 October 2008

when your style gets cramped, literally

I was diagnosed with a brain tumor in November 1995. Following that was surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. I’ve had numerous MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans since then to check for re-growth of the cancer. I can thankfully say they’ve always been clear. Today, I had an MRI as a check-up for the first time in two years. Something happened that has never happened before: I had a couple of moments of claustrophobia.

The technician’s assistant asked the usual questions beforehand, like, “Do you have any metal in your body?” I noticed a cartoon on the wall in which a woman is being rolled into the MRI tube. The doctor tells her that they need to scan her brain to figure out why she has claustrophobic episodes! I laughed about that with the assistant, saying, “Yes, let’s put you in this coffin and figure out why you have claustrophobia!”

But when they rolled me into that tube—I don’t know what it was—my brain started working. I thought about that idea of a coffin and being buried alive. I remembered the movie The Vanishing. (By the way, the original Dutch version, 1988, was far superior to the American remake, 1993, with Jeff Bridges and Kiefer Sutherland. The American film had a predictable happy ending.) That image of waking up, buried alive in a coffin, kept coming back to me! Then I thought about people in prison, crammed into tiny cells.

A couple of times I was on the verge of squeezing the little signaling device they give you. I didn’t want to disrupt the scanning process, but I was also ready to get out of that thing! Some deep breathing (and some prayer) enabled me to get through it.

As I left the building and got in my car, I realized that I’ve never understood how terrible it must be for those who have claustrophobia. (Or for that matter, people who have panic attacks and post-traumatic stress syndrome.) I’m almost always a pretty calm person. Maybe I should be thankful for getting a tiny taste of what so many people routinely experience. It goes a long way toward better understanding.

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